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World Cup bronze medal for Britcher leading all 4 US women into top 15

By Sandy Caligiore | Jan. 24, 2021, 8:43 a.m. (ET)

Summer Britcher on the podium in Igls, Austria after taking third on January 24, 2021

Above: The USA's Summer Britcher (right) celebrates with winner Natalie Geisenberger (center) and Julia Taubitz, both from Germany.

IGLS, Austria – In USA Luge’s COVID-impacted season, Sunday’s women’s singles and sprint races produced the team’s finest hour to date as Summer Britcher picked up a bronze medal in the Eberspacher World Cup singles event. It was the first medal of this truncated season for the United States.

The two-time Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa. returned later in the day and nearly made it a double bronze, finishing fourth in the sprint competition behind three Germans. Britcher was just 0.01 of a second from another podium.

“It felt really good,” said the five-time World Cup winner about her bronze medal. “I’ve had fun racing, but a little frustrated with myself. More than looking for results, I try to have runs that I’m really proud of and then no matter what the result I can be happy. I haven’t felt that way with the races so far. It’s been hard missing the first half of the season to get back into the swing of things, but today, the sun’s shining, the mountains are beautiful, I have great teammates, a great mood, and I was able to throw down two runs that I could be proud of.”

In only their fourth race of the season – the team joined the World Cup tour less than four weeks ago – Britcher has exhibited a steady rise in her performances, culminating with a pair of third place runs in the Sunday morning singles event at the Olympic site that runs along the foot of Patscherkofel Mountain. She had good backup help, too, with the rising Ashley Farquharson eighth, Emily Sweeney improving greatly in the second heat to finish 12th in her return race, and Brittney Arndt 15th which qualified her for the sprint.

WOMEN

Despite the second victory of the season for Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, the battle for the World Cup crystal will come down to the final in St. Moritz. That’s because teammate and defending champion Julia Taubitz finished second in singles and took gold in the following sprint race to keep herself mathematically alive. It was Taubitz’s sixth triumph this year.

After stepping away from the sport last year to deliver her infant son, Geisenberger, in 11 events, has registered nine silver medals – eight of them consecutively to start the year – to accompany her two wins. Geisenberger, with four Olympic gold medals on her resume, slid to the best individual heat times and turned back Taubitz by 0.08 of a second. Britcher was 0.28 from Geisenberger. The American used third ranked starts in each leg to build the early momentum leading to the bronze medal effort.

Ashley Farquharson of Park City, Utah, in just her second World Cup campaign, continues to make gradual strides up the leaderboard. She was 0.56 from Geisenberger in the two-heat singles event. It was here, in Farquharson’s World Cup debut 14 months ago, that she announced herself with a third place standing after one run. In Igls’ second World Cup of the pandemic season, she showed improvement at the start and took eighth place on the day. Farquharson’s second race, the sprint cup where the start timing begins well down the track, she landed in seventh place, just 0.17 from winner Taubitz.

“I had a couple of good races today,” stated Farquharson. “All three of my runs were pretty identical, pretty solid the whole way through. I’m super happy, stoked, on two of my best finishes thus far, and I am super excited carrying my spot in the seeded group and this momentum into worlds next week.”

Emily Sweeney of Lake Placid returned to the World Cup campaign this week after receiving orders from the Army World Class Athlete Program allowing her to do so. She was 10th in her lone race New Year’s weekend in Koenigssee. Her two attempts in the Igls singles were opposite in nature: Sweeney was fifth from the start handles in the opening heat only to give time back on the run down Igls short, 10 turn women’s layout. She was 18th at the intermission. When racing resumed, she was just 20th at the start, but accelerated down the track with the sixth best time to improve her final ranking to 12th. Sweeney was one spot behind Farquharson in the sprint cup.

“It was definitely different just hopping back in,” Sweeney remarked. “It’s something I have to work on for next week. We’re getting ready for worlds so I’m glad I got this race under my belt but I have a lot to clean up. I’m looking forward to another opportunity. This year has looked different for everyone across the board. I think everyone is tired of hearing that. I’m looking forward to having all of the things we went through matter and really mean something. It’s been a really challenging time, so this is the time when we have to forget about all that, be happy with all the training we’ve put into it, come together as a team and hopefully represent USA well.”

Arndt, another Park City resident, qualified in Friday’s Nations Cup with a fourth-place performance. She was 15th in singles and 13th in the sprint, marking two of her best results this month.

All four U.S. women are set to compete at the 50thWorld Championships in Koenigssee Jan. 29-31.

SPRINT CUP (Final event of the season)

Igls women’s race results:

  1. Julia Taubitz, Germany, 30.041 seconds
  2. Natalie Geisenberger, Germany, 30.070
  3. Dajana Eitberger, Germany, 30.132

Final Sprint Cup standings:

  1. Taubitz, 300 points
  2. Geisenberger, 255
  3. Eitberger, 210

Updated overall World Cup standings:

  1. Geisenberger, 965
  2. Taubitz, 891
  3. Eitberger, 638

Igls men’s race results:

  1. Semen Pavlichenko, Russia, 32.341
  2. Kevin Fischnaller, Italy, 32.421
  3. Felix Loch, Germany, 32.428 (clinched seventh overall title on Saturday)

Final Sprint Cup standings:

  1. Fischnaller and Loch tied, 255

3.   Pavlichenko, 206

Updated overall World Cup standings:

  1. Loch, 1025
  2. Johannes Ludwig, Germany, 674
  3. Pavlichenko, 648

Igls doubles race results:

  1. Andris Sics/Juris Sics, Latvia, 29.958
  2. Thomas Steu/Lorenz Koeller, Austria, 29.959
  3. Toni Eggert/Sascha Benecken, Germany, 29.969

Final Sprint Cup standings:

  1. Steu/Koeller, 270
  2. Sics/Sics, 231
  3. Eggert/Benecken, 196

Updated overall World Cup standings:

  1. Steu/Koeller, 896 (clinched 2020-2021 overall World Cup doubles championship)
  2. Eggert/Benecken, 770
  3. Sics/Sics, 749

While Saturday in Igls saw Germany’s Felix Loch secure his seventh World Cup overall crown, the home nation celebrated Sunday as the doubles team of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller recorded a sprint cup silver medal. With the accompanying World Cup points, the Austrian duo clinched the season-long chase, ending a streak of eight consecutive World Cup doubles globes for Germany, the past four by Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. The last time a non-German sled achieved this feat was nine years ago when the Linger brothers, Andreas and Wolfgang, took the honor for Austria.

Just one World Cup remains this season and that occurs two weeks from now in St. Moritz, but first there’s the winter highlight event next weekend in Koenigssee. Joining the women on the U.S. squad will be 2018 Olympic silver medal winner Chris Mazdzer of Salt Lake City, Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., Jonny Gustafson of Massena, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. The kickoff is Friday morning (Jan. 29) with sprint qualifying. The top 15 in each discipline will advance to the race for the medals in the afternoon.

NBC Sports Network will have coverage from the Igls World Cup tonight (Jan. 24) from 9 – 10 PM ET.

RESULTS AND STANDINGS